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Tough decisions ahead for Missouri Valley Conference athletics

Lots of options on the table, but nothing set in stone

Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner Doug Elgin said some tough decisions on the 2020-21 sports seasons are coming so
Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner Doug Elgin said some tough decisions on the 2020-21 sports seasons are coming soon. (MVC)

CEDAR FALLS — The Missouri Valley Conference’s recent Zoom call with its men’s basketball coaches included a balance of optimism and pessimism about the likelihood of the upcoming season amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 infections rise in a number of states, time is running out for conferences and universities to make final decisions on how to create a safe environment for their student-athletes to compete — if they can create one at all.

Since the MVC’s Zoom call, the Ivy League and Patriot League have canceled fall sports while the Big Ten decided to play conference-only games — dealing a first blow to MVC fall sports as a result.

MVC commissioner Doug Elgin also appeared on last week’s Zoom call and was asked if he would feel comfortable with teams playing right now.

“I would not,” Elgin said. “I think it’s a little bit too early to make some of those determinations as to whether or not we could start a fall season right now. I do think things may look a lot differently, probably will, when you turn the calendar to August. We’re soon going to be reaching a point where we have to make some of those very tough decisions.”

Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing was one of a handful of the conference’s coaches who also spoke candidly about his trepidations for the upcoming fall and winter sports seasons.

“(I’m) scared to death, man,” Lansing said. “I can’t even imagine not having a season. I’m paying close attention to what other teams are doing, other leagues, pro sports and all that. I’m worried about football. (I’m) just praying everyday.”

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If COVID-19 cases continue to rise as fall sports near, speculation exists around the country of the possibility for conferences to move football to the spring and start the basketball season in January.

Elgin didn’t rule out the possibility.

“We’re certainly looking at a lot of models where we could adjust, either for a late start to the fall season or to moving those seasons, but, again, we’re going to be in a position soon where we have to make those decisions,” Elgin said. “No answers at this point. We’re waiting to see what the virus dictates quite frankly.”

Among the many complications MVC institutions are likely to encounter during the 2020-21 athletics seasons is the costs associated with testing its student-athletes for COVID-19. However, until the conference mandates testing standards its schools will be unsure about the associated costs.

“I do think there will be some costs that are prohibitive if we have to test every game in terms of beyond taking the (student-athletes’) temperature,” Elgin said. “Certainly there’s going to be a great strain on our schools to measure up if those national standards are higher than anticipated. I think that’s obviously a major concern and a major focus for our staff and for our campuses in the weeks ahead.”

While the MVC is likely to set testing standards for its member institutions in the coming weeks, it will not have final say in a team’s ability to compete or not. Elgin described how the league intends to allow local and regional health departments, along with the universities themselves, to continue to dictate whether or not its teams are safe enough to compete.

“I do think that local and regional specifications and restrictions are going to lead. We’re certainly going to follow those in each of our campus markets,” Elgin said. “Most of the decisions about student-athlete participation will be made by the (schools). We will have, I think, some conference standards on what would make a student-athlete (unavailable) for competition.”

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